The Future of European Defence (Admiral James Stavridis)
22 Apr 2013
In late April, I'll travel to Berlin to give one of the final
speeches of my four years as the Supreme Allied Commander for NATO's
global operations.In what will be a bit of a valedictory address, I
shall talk about the challenges the Alliance faces in the time ahead --
there are many. I'll also offer some thoughts and solutions that I hope
will be helpful to my successor and the team that will continue the
voyage at NATO headquarters.
First, as to the challenges:
- Cyber – Top of my list. Here we see the greatest mismatch between
the level of potential threat and our preparation for it. While the 28
NATO nations collectively have enormous skill and capability in this
area, we have yet to find ways to work together, largely due to national
caveats and concerns about sharing such sensitive technology,
intelligence, and knowledge.
- Proliferation - I worry greatly about the leakage of weapons of
mass destruction from various rogue states like Syria, Iran, and North
Korea. Associated with this is the ability to deliver such weapons using
ballistic missiles -- a technology that is likewise proliferating
rapidly. The current situation in Syria, of course, is the most
- Trafficking - Related to proliferation, yet encompassing not only
weapons of mass destruction, but also humans (as in slavery and human
smuggling for profit), conventional weapons, currency, narcotics, and
illegal migrants. By some estimates, these various "business ventures"
account for 5% of the world's GDP, or something in the range of $5
Trillion. The effect goes far beyond the criminality -- profits finance
terrorism, create corrupt criminal states, and undermine fragile
- Piracy - While we are making gains (especially on the east coast
of Africa), this will continue to be a multi-billion dollar
discontinuity in the global transportation system.
Operation Ocean Shield's Combined Boarding Exercise— in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (Photo credit: MARCOM)
- Fragile States -- Afghanistan, Mali and Syria are obvious, and
NATO interests are engaged in each. Additionally, there are other very
fragile security situations in North Africa, the Levant, and central
Asia that have the potential to require security operations at some
- Financial Crunch – Austerity and the effect of defence budgets.
NATO GDP % defence spending remained at 1.6% average in 2012, same as
2011, down from 1.8% in 2010 and 1.9% in 2009.
- Black Swans - What are we disregarding, because it seems too low a
probability, but could have enormous consequence? I'd nominate a bird
flu pandemic, which, if large enough, could have massive security
All of which brings us to the future of European defence.
It is worth remembering the good news: the 28 nations of NATO
account for over 50% of the world's gross domestic product and
collectively spend nearly $1 trillion on defence, dwarfing any possible
opponent or combination of opponents.
Having said that, the declining European defence budget and the
fact that the U.S. accounts for nearly 73% of total NATO defence
spending is unbalanced and unsustainable over time. American taxpayers
will begin to feel that the European Allies and partners are "getting a
free ride" as some already say in the U.S.
NATO Europe should meet its own self-assigned goal of 2% of GDP for
defence (the U.S., even with recent cuts, spends well over 3%); yet the
European numbers are in fact dropping as mentioned above.
While we work our way through the financial crisis and hopefully
return to balance between the two sides of the Atlantic, some of the
things we should consider to enhance efficiencies and add "bang for the
- Pooling and sharing our resources - We are doing some of this
today, of course with the so-called "Smart Defence" initiative. This
includes Alliance Ground Surveillance (unmanned drone aircraft bought
together); the C-17 heavy airlift wing in Papa, Hungary for strategic
airlift; ballistic missile defence, far too expensive for any one
nation; and Baltic Air Policing, bringing high-performance jets to cover
the airways over the Baltic states while they concentrate on other
areas of investment.
Danish Air Force F-16s participating in the Baltic Region Training Event XIV on 17 April 2013.
(Photo by by Capt Maciej Nojek, Polish Air Force)
- Cyber – As discussed above, we simply need to break down barriers
to cooperation here, recognizing the sensitivity of the material
involved. The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence
Tallinn, Estonia is a good start, as are more exercises with a
significant Cyber component, like Steadfast Jazz and other future
- Special Forces are crucial to 21st century security and we need
to share best practices, train and exercise, and ultimately operate in
mutually supportive ways. The new SOF Headquarters building at SHAPE in
Mons, Belgium is a good example of the synergy that comes from bringing
so many national SOF forces together.
The new NATO Special Operations Headquarters building at SHAPE, Dec. 12, 2012. (NATO Photo by RNLAF Sgt Peter Buitenhuis)
- NATO Response Force – Joint training, Live Exercises, more robust
and stronger interoperability will be key and are part of pooling and
sharing. A permanent standing NRF HQ might able to go alone or work with
Joint Force Commands and HQs – including the EUROCORPS, Allied Rapid
Reaction Corps, German-Netherlands Corps, and others. Working with
concerned partners across the globe who can contribute to security is
the ultimate form of "Smart Defence."
- Comprehensive approach – Working with political, economic,
humanitarian, cultural, and private sector partners. This approach will
allow us to best prepare the next Black Swan event. Military/Civilian,
Foreign/Domestic, Public/Private, Academia, NGOs/Multi-Nationals must
pool and share among themselves.
To meet these many challenges, there is much to be done on this
side of the Atlantic, and inevitably NATO will continue to be a useful
platform for encouraging a re-emergence of European defence.
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, US European Command